12 for 12: Randy James

Build IT Together’s 12 for 12 series interviews technology professionals who stand out for their innovative thinking and build creative cultures within their organizations. Catch up on previous 12 for 12 interviews here.

This month, we meet with Randy James, of Greenleaf Hospitality Group in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

What’s your title and role at Greenleaf Hospitality Group (GHG)?

My title is Manager of Technology Services. We don’t call ourselves “IT” since we do more than just break fix and computer deployment. We support point of sale, audio visual, video production equipment and pretty much any technology across our three properties. It’s a lot to keep up! My role is to manage our operations side of the house, which includes infrastructure like data centers and networking, as well as service and support through our service desk. I’m always looking for ways to improve our service excellence to our customers, internal and external.

How do you align IT goals with organizational goals?

One of the bigger challenges in IT is to make sure you’re helping to drive the business forward, not just keep the lights on. So much of our capital initiatives each year go into technology that my team helps deploy and support. We have been pretty successful at getting key players and stakeholders identified early so that we can partner with them from the beginning phases of design all the way through support. If you don’t get buy in from the customer early, it’s a project that’s destined to fail. Those early conversations prove vital in our understanding of the business and where they are trying to go, so we can drive forward with them.

What’s one way GHG works that could benefit other organizations?

I think it comes down to continuous improvement. We strive to get better at all we do, never resting on previous successes. In order to do that you have to measure and get a baseline. Then you have to analyze, plan, implement and support ideas to get that baseline moved up. Constant improvement in skill set is vital too. We do lots of training and I set a goal for my whole to team to each achieve 4 industry certifications this year. In our fast moving industry if you quit learning, you become obsolete as fast as the tech you support.

If you could pat someone on the back at GHG, who would that be?

Two people: first off is our CIO Michael Cross. He rotated himself out to one of our other properties, Wings Event Center, for the duration of the summer so he could tackle a reorganization of technology out there, after that location took on a big video production project. It would have been a nightmare to try and figure that out without sending an individual out to own the project, and to have the CIO put himself right in the line of fire like that was very cool, so I give him props for it!

Second is Lance Meister. He joined us from our security team, and has really ramped up his technology skills and knowledge in a short time. He got A+ certified, and overall has just been growing exponentially on our team. He has customer service on lockdown, owns his projects, and his performance has just been stellar.

How do you communicate IT wins to the rest of the organization?

Tech Services has a big whiteboard in our common area, and over the course of every month we add “wins” or accomplishments to that board. At the end of the month, our CIO grabs it all up and puts it in a summary which eventually goes out to the entire company in an email, along with Key Performance Indicator reports from the service desk.

We also attend department meetings and huddles to talk about initiatives and get people excited about new or improved services.

What do you feel will the be most important topic/trend in IT for the next 3 years?

GHG is definitely trending towards BYOD—we’re working on a virtual desktop infrastructure across the company, and down the road we’re going to start seeing our employees grab their own devices to connect for work.

If we allocate money and provide guidance, employees can be free to purchase their own device of choice. All we’re concerned about is providing access and managing service needs, so that gives them a little more power to choose the best devices for their departments. It also speeds up device deployment and gives my team a big chunk of their time back to devote to process improvement.

As a hospitality company, Internet of Things (IOT) is definitely on our minds too. Gradually we’re going to see more and more IOT items implemented to meet hospitality needs, and we’ll need to keep up on the security end of that puzzle.

How do empower your team?

My team meets weekly, every Monday morning. I ask that a new member of the team each week be designated as Service Desk Coordinator. That person is now the quarterback of the team for the week. They call the shots. The resources, be it people or otherwise, go through that person. My guidance to them is simple. Meet our KPI’s and provide top notch service excellence to our customers… I don’t care how you get there.

We have a culture of ownership, accountability and team first. No one goes it alone, we all roll up our sleeves and dig in.

What’s something new you hope to try in the next year?

From a productivity standpoint: better email philosophy. I hate that feeling when you’ve taken a vacation for just a day or two, and you come back buried in email. I’d like to get more fluent with zero-inbox methodology and using labels more. It’s an aspect of my workflow that would improve a lot if I just had better techniques for managing it.

The Bonus Round

What are your passions you have outside of IT/technology?

Well, for starters I love spending time with my family. My wife is my best friend and my two beautiful daughters are growing up so fast it’s ridiculous!

Other than that, I’m a huge craft beer fan, and what a golden age we’re living in right now! I do a little bit of home brewing too. Nothing much, but it’s fun to be able to produce something, share it with friends, and say “hey, I made this myself, try it out.”

I also dabble on the guitar a bit. A good friend of mine and I play occasionally at open mic nights in town. I like that Kalamazoo/West Michigan has a solid culture for that kind of thing (not to mention it goes hand-in-hand with craft beer).

What’s your go-to spot for food or drink in Kalamazoo?

I’m a big fan of Boatyard Brewing. They have a family atmosphere, a cool taphouse, and just a laid back environment. The owners are cool guys. I could say the same about One Well Brewing too.

As far as just food, I’d be remiss to not mention Old Burdick’s. I realize they’re part of my company, but their bacon jam burger is awesome and everyone should try it once.

How do you get into “the zone”? (music, coffee, etc)

My idea of getting in the zone is just closing the door to my office, throwing on Spotify, and listening to one of my favorite new artists—lately I’ve been getting into The Revivalists, and Kaleo. Other times I’ll grab my acoustic guitar that i keep in the office and spend five or ten minutes just picking through something, tuning out the noise of the world.

Sometimes just turning down the lights helps me focus, too.

What’s a book you’d recommend to every colleague? Why?

Winning by Jack Welch. It’s a bit dated now, but has a great message about transparency. Welch was the CEO of GE back when they were going gangbusters, buying up all kinds of businesses, and producing a lot of different things. Can you imagine being the CEO of a multi-conglomerate like that? Welch lays out his philosophy on how he managed that, and it’s pretty insightful.

He speaks a lot about honest communication, evaluation, and generally empowering your team to do the best work they can do.

 
Randy, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Randy on Linkedin, and learn more about GHG here! For more tech stories and news, visit Newmind Group and Build It Together online.

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About

Garrett Wenger is a storyteller and marketer at Newmind Group, and a native to Kalamazoo, MI. He received his BFA in English Literature from Western Michigan University, and has heritage in Southwest Michigan’s creative writing community. He published his first book of poetry in late 2013, and he has been featured in numerous literary journals. With an eye for human stories, he hopes to imbue an emotive sheen to the message Newmind Group is putting forth. He spends much of his spare time reading, writing, and rotating a growing list of tech toys.